How to fly fresh produce

What are freight forwarders’ priorities for shipping seasonal fresh produce? IAG Cargo customer Able Freight gives us the inside track on this year’s harvest, how they maintain their cold chain, and what they look for in an air cargo partner…

Asparagus has been moving in huge volumes this season, can you give us some background to this and other produce moved?

Able Freight: Fresh produce such as asparagus is seasonal – there’s a short window into Europe and the demand is strong from February thru Easter, especially in Spain and Switzerland. But throughout the year, we consolidate produce for a lot of supermarkets, hotels and importers overseas – everything from asparagus, lettuce, mangoes, carrots, corn, whatever you see on supermarket shelves – produce is our core business. Currently we’re moving cherries May thru August, strawberries are year-round, and we also move a lot of stone fruits, such as peaches, plums and nectarines from mid-April to October.

What factors do you have to take into account when flying fresh produce?

Able Freight: Most of the items that we ship must fly, with the exception of hardier items such as lettuce which go by sea. In general, we move items by air at the start of the season, and toward the end of the season because that’s when our products aren’t as strong – three or four weeks by sea just won’t work, so we transport them by air during those periods.

What materials and tech do you use to keep produce cool?

Able Freight: Cold chain is our primary focus, and we ensure that this is intact throughout the supply chain. There are a number of areas that we can’t control, for instance we have to deliver the products to the airline four hours before departure, during which time the products are susceptible to temperature abuse. If the temperature outside is 30 degrees, the tarmac will be 40 – so we ensure the product is pre-cooled, refrigerated, thoroughly wrapped and insulated, then delivered to the airport in cool trucks.

What do you look for in a cold chain air cargo partner?

Able Freight: The most important thing for us is reliability – no matter what the cost, communication is non-negotiable. When we look for a partner, we want to know that if there’s an issue, we’ll know about it right away. We want to work collaboratively so we can solve problems together. The communication and follow-up that IAG Cargo offers is excellent, I don’t think I can remember a time when the responses haven’t been instantaneous.

Transporting perishables? Learn more about IAG Cargo’s Constant Fresh service